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Kayhi’s Correa has eyes on the future: Senior and ACT Student Champion for Alaska talks motivations
From left, Franklyn Correa, Emma Campbell and John Luke Calderon help set up Kayhi Rotary Interact's Daddy-Daughter Dance using props from the First City Players on Feb. 17 at the Ketchikan High School commons. Photo courtesy of Marna Cessnun

Daily News Staff Writer

 Ketchikan High School senior Franklyn Correa has spent months writing essays and filling out applications for universities, scholarships and educational programs and has been harvesting the rewards.

His most recent honors were to be selected as the ACT Student Champion for Alaska and as a recipient of the Prudential Spirit of Community President’s Volunteer Service Award.

According to information from the ACT program, hundreds of high school seniors are nominated to become ACT Student Champions for each state, and one student is chosen per state. The criteria for winning the award and the accompanying $500 college scholarship are demonstrating a passion for learning and leading, as well as embodying the academic, career-planning and social-emotional aspects of college and career readiness.

To be awarded the Prudential honor, students older than age 15 must have served a minimum of 100 hours as volunteers in their communities, according to information at spirit.prudential.com.

Correa took a break from classes on Monday to talk about his journey through the maze of college planning, and also the hopes and dreams that motivate him.

Referring to the ACT program choosing him, Correa said “they valued not just test scores, but the story that they wanted to hear from you.”

He said that he was given a prompt to write about on the application: “Tell us about your future and how you plan to get there.”

He laughed when he said he had been surprised when he was given only a half of a page to write about such a big topic.

“I thought that was really different,” he said.

Correa had spent the previous three months writing in-depth essays as he applied to nine universities, with the plan to study civil engineering.

Correa was also a participant in the seven-week 2018 Leadership Enterprise for a Diverse America at Princeton University, and he said that helped him immensely to prepare his applications and to perfect his essays.

The LEDA program offers not only the initial program, but support for participants through the next year as they apply for colleges. Correa said his advisors told him that once he wrote his essays, to let them sit for a week or two before he went back with fresh eyes for revisions.

“Your thought process while you’re writing, it is different than how you’d read it,” Correa explained.

Correa said that all of the in-depth essay writing — tackling questions such as where he was coming from, how he would tackle a proposed issue and what experiences shaped him as a person, helped him to understand his motivations and goals more fully.

“I never really realized what I wanted to do until I actually — I mean sure, I had an idea — but the logic behind it and the reasoning behind it never really occurred to me until I started writing,” he said. “As I wrote, I was like, ‘Why? Why do I want to become an engineer? Why do I want to become a civil engineer?’”

Correa said that one of his main motivators for choosing civil engineering as a career was his parents’ stories of their childhoods in the Philippines.

“My parents would tell me stories of how they grew up and so I would use those experiences for myself in a way that’s, ‘I want to help people who grew up just like them, because they didn’t necessarily have the resources,’” Correa said.

His father’s stories of growing up in a rural mountain area, where he had limited access to education and shopping, inspired Correa to focus on a civil engineering career.

“I dream someday to build a bridge for myself in a way that helps these rural communities get connected to like, the market or education or the hospital, because even access can mean a lot,” Correa said.

Correa said he also became aware of how civil engineering projects can help people in such areas through information provided by the nonprofit organization Bridges to Prosperity. He said that organization compiled statistics such as how new bridges helped some communities achieve improvements such as a 15 percent increase in access to health care and an 18 percent increase in access to education.

The challenges that Correa said his parents faced growing up gave them an intense desire to see that he and his two sisters earn college degrees. Correa said that as he learned more about modern American economics and the job market, however, he’s gained a nuanced perspective on how valuable a college degree is, as he’s realized that it’s not necessarily a straight path to success.

“That’s not necessarily the case anymore,” Correa said.

He said he tries to share that idea with his younger sisters Franchezca, an eighth-grader, and Francine, a fourth-grader, so that they will grow up with the idea that there are myriad opportunities and paths for them, not only college. He wants them to feel less pressure about attending college than he has experienced, he said.

Correa works at McDonald’s with his mother, and he shared the unique viewpoint that gives him.

He said he knows there is a stereotype about working in fast food, but he likes to talk with people and work to dispel that stigma.

“Sure, they might view you in that way,” he said, “but it doesn’t necessarily matter if you’re working toward something else. You just have to do whatever it takes.”

Correa said that the $500 scholarship he received as the ACT award winner is important to achieving his goals.

“I pretty much need all the help I can get to get to college, especially. The cost of college is, of course, another barrier to overcome,” he said.

He added that he is highly motivated to relieve the monetary burden that his parents are likely to bear.

When he applied for the ACT scholarship, he explained how he approached creating the short essay.

“I was trying to show how motivated I am to overcome these obstacles in a way, so that it shows how much work I’m willing to put in after high school,” he said. “It’s something that I want to challenge myself and how much work I want to put in to achieve that.”

Correa said that his dream college is Princeton University. He said it offers a “Princeton Gap Year” program that he wants to apply for, in which he could, as a civil engineering student, work with non-governmental agencies around the world as a college freshman.

“I wanted to experience that,” he said. “My experiences there could perhaps help me, as I go into my dream of building my own bridge.”

He said that Princeton, where the LEDA program he attended in 2018 was held, has a sense of community that he believes could be valuable as well to help build relationships and networks.

Correa said it was his work with the Rotary Interact program, the National Honor Society and the Tongass National Forest Youth Advisory Council that earned him the Prudential award.

Correa said that it may seem to other students that he is receiving many scholarships and awards, but that’s only a factor of having applied for so many. The ones he did not receive aren’t noticed, he said.

“Apply for everything you can,” he advises other students.

He added that students should be dedicated, know why they’re applying, and show their true selves in their applications.

Correa also advised students who might be less sure of what they want to do to expand their experiences and to try a lot of new things.

“Everyone is uncertain in a way,” he said. “They don’t necessarily know what’s going to happen tomorrow, or next month or next year, especially. Just the one thing that I would say is that … just try to open your opportunities, be open minded and don’t necessarily view one opportunity as bad.”

He said some young people might even see some job opportunities as not optimal — such as his fast food job — but, he said, “by experiencing all these different avenues, you’re experimenting with what you like and what you don’t like.”

He emphasized that one critically important aspect of trying new paths and programs is the opportunity to talk with and learn from new people, which can help a young person to hone their own ideas and inner knowledge.

Correa added that his own interactions with other high school students from around the country has given him a fresh perspective on what Kayhi offers.

“I feel like Kayhi is this special community and in the sense that it has like, a lot of opportunities available, but at the same time it doesn’t,” he said. “You just have to take advantage of the things that you know.”

Correa said he has recently applied for a spot at the National Youth Science Program, a nearly four-week outdoors and science program in West Virginia. He is taking his own advice.

“I want to experiment. I want to get a feel for working outdoors, especially with science,” he said.